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History, real estate complicate Fort Monroe transfer
By the Associated Press
HAMPTON, Va. - Nearly three years after the government said it would leave Fort Monroe, a draft agreement has emerged specifying how the historic property will be managed after 2011.
But it's only the beginning.
State and federal officials say the 570-acre peninsula smothered in history is not an easy thing to convey.
A draft of the agreement is 45 pages long, and only will grow longer, said Kathleen Kilpatrick, the state historic preservation officer. The agreement is subject to public comments and more than 30 "consulting parties" involved in the process.
"It's a very strong agreement," Kilpatrick said. "It's very preservation-friendly, while recognizing that preservation depends on creating economic sustainability to support your culture."
Fort Monroe remained in Union hands during the Civil War. Escaped slaves sought sanctuary there, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned at the base for two years.
Most of the property would revert to state control when the Army moves its personnel to Fort Eustis and Fort Knox, Ky.
Kilpatrick said the three guiding principals are: respect the fort's historic assets, provide public access, and cover the cost of running what's essentially a small town.
The strictest rules would apply to everything within the moat-encircled stone fort built in the 1830s. Development at the grassy, eastern end of the base would be permitted, if it maintained the same scale, density and characteristics as its surroundings.
The Army would assist negotiations for a long-term loan of the collections at the Casemate Museum. The museum, built inside the cavernous stone halls of the fort, preserves the cell where Davis was held.
As part of the agreement, the Army would do more archaeological testing in search of the Freedmen's Cemetery rumored to have existed on base.
The Union general in charge during the Civil War decreed that escaped slaves be considered contraband of war, and granted them freedom inside the fort.
While the 45 pages have been slow in coming, some are fearful the pace is too quick.
H.O. Malone, a retired Army historian who heads Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, said he doesn't like how fast the agreement is coming together, and be believes the focus instead should be on exactly who gets jurisdiction after the Army leaves.
"They're putting the cart before the horse," he said.